“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” – Generic but relevant disclaimer.
Teaching, or more accurately “getting the buggers to learn”, is a topic that *always* generates passionate opinions and as such merits the generic disclaimer plonked rather obviously at the top of this post. I am not here to start fights. I am here to share my ideas and opinions to promote positive discussion and that is my only agenda.
Too many lessons these days still seem to be governed by the confines of the rather dated three part lesson, or more accurately, the two part lesson, with 2 minutes to pack away and get them out bolted on at the end.
The first half of the lesson (used to be known as the 5 minute starter) involves the teacher standing at the front of the class making some attempts at engaging the pupils, maybe with the reading of a list of pupils names to make sure that they haven’t gone missing so the establishment don’t get sued, and then it’s time. Time for the list. The list of all of the things. It sometimes might unfold like this…
“Here is all of the things that you are going to do today, in the order you are going to do them in. Do you understand what I mean by this bit? Good, don’t do this bit before you’ve done that first bit, and then after you’ve done that bit, do the second half of the following bit. Got it? Is that clear? Now go and do everything I just said in that precise order and remember it all without making any mistakes or I will shout at you.”
“What time is it?”
“It’s twenty-five past sir…”
“Damn… right. This is a slightly smaller run down of the big list I’ve already said that you’ve got to do and remember. Have you all learned this? Have I said it slowly enough and repeated myself enough? Tell me that you’ve learned it! Answer this question!? I’m now going to tell you off and raise my voice because you are not putting your hands up and answering my questions!”
One student attempts an answer.
“Thank god! That means you all clearly understand what I said. Right… get going!”
Some pupils do some of the things that were in the list.
“Right! That’s it! IT’S THE END OF THE LESSON!!!! Everybody pack away!!!! Quickly!! Or else you’ll be late to your next ‘lesson’!!”.
This is an honest reflection of what often happens in lessons when you are learning how to be a teacher. This is happening in one form or another somewhere right now. There’s a good reason for it too. This is the default. This is the safety net, this is what the lesson often turns into despite what you planned. If you find yourself saying “I don’t have a default” then this is what you are most likely doing in your classroom.
The reason is this. We are human and we all want to get home. The staff and the students. We do not want to do as little as possible, but often we want or need to do as little as what makes us not appear to be un-professional or un-caring. It is the amount of effort required that means that everyone that needs to be happy is happy. From the first year 7 that walks through the gate, to the last turn of the keys as the caretaker locks the gate. It’s human nature. This default is not our fault. It is life, and it is not helped by the confines of the factory regimented institution style boundaries that we are forced to stick to. It’s that fucking school bell! Because we HAVE to have a school bell… right? We have to have a three part lesson right? We have to have uniforms and subjects with sets dividing classes right?
The simple truth of our system these days is that the people facing the public paint a picture that their school is not a factory focussed on mass-producing great numbers and statistics, and yet the majority of educational based decisions rely upon things like performance related pay targets which, you guessed it, have recently become more and more focused upon teachers showing evidence of meeting percentage pass rates and student numbers for the A Level course they want to run next year and that if these targets are not met that the par rewards are refused. Performance related pay?! Why not increment rewards that are productive and essential, like lunch duties or running extra-curricular *enriching*activities for financial perks at break time? Surely that would be better than distracting the workforce with meaningless targets and tasks to evidence under the threat of less pay? How on earth can workforce moral have any chance of surviving if the focus is on how the school is portrayed over the welfare of the students?
On top of all this the pastoral role within schools and academy’s is dying and is nearly non-existent. Now teachers have barely any pastoral time and are forced to do a tiny amount of pastoral care and enrichment within the ridiculously short time that is known as registration. The hugely important opportunity children deserve at school to have a sense of family which used to be called “form time”, where a little routine and a friendly start to the day with a chat with your form tutor helped to keep many children coming back to school on time instead of trapesing in full of Taurine and square eyed at 9am after a 3am COD fix. It would massively impact a child’s mental health at the start of the day and actually prepare them to be more prepared and ready to learn too, yet this has been cut to taking a register and get to your first lesson. It’s not right.
What’s left is a small army of amazing teachers and role models who do their best in a ridiculous situation that needs updating and reworking so that it works for the students and teachers instead of for the Principal who leaves the school premises in a lovely beamer whilst looking forward to the outreach trip to Malawi that the school community funded so they could look good. They sun themselves and shake the right hands while the rest of us try to teach in a culturally enriching way despite the restraints of the Government which keeps spouting forth ridiculous opinions and rules to be changed at their whim just because someone who has never been an education secretary before decides to do something that might possibly make them be remembered.
I have said it before and I will say it again many times. This is not good enough.